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Nature-based solutions

This article introduces Nature-based Solutions as a response to the climate and ecological crises.
© Ben Murphy, University of Glasgow

Nature-based (NbS) solutions are actions that involve people working with nature to address societal challenges, providing benefits for both human well-being and biodiversity. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines nature-based solutions as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human wellbeing and biodiversity benefits”.   

Nature-based solutions could provide 40% of the climate mitigation efforts until 2030 which are needed to stem the global increase in temperature – referencing a 2017 paper that showed they could cover 37% of “cost-effective CO2 mitigation” to keep warming below 2C. NbS not only reduce atmospheric CO2 but provide a myriad of other social and ecological benefits.

For example, fighting the loss of soil biodiversity is key to global food security and the achievement of more than half of the Sustainable Development Goals. Soil biodiversity plays a vital role in the soil ecosystem as soil organisms are responsible for nutrient cycling, regulating the dynamics of soil organic matter, soil carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions, allowing soils to function properly. Soil biodiversity plays a central role in preserving human health through a range of pathways including water purification, climate stabilization, nutrient and food security, and immune regulation. Plants surrounded by biodiverse soils have a greater resilience against pests and diseases. 

Soil depends on the presence of a vast community of living organisms to remain healthy and fertile: these organisms make up soil biodiversity. Soil is a living resource, plants and animals above and below ground depending on the complex processes and interactions taking place in the soil that enable life on Earth. Unfortunately, the attention mainly goes to those species that we can see, while we tend to ignore those under our feet. Plants nurture a whole world of creatures in the soil, that in return feed and protect the plants. 

diagram of soil biodiversity

Source: FAO

To prevent and minimize soil biodiversity loss, farmers and other land users can adopt sustainable soil management practices. Limiting waste by recycling and reusing will minimize the chances of soil pollution and therefore protect soil biodiversity. By sustaining green development and avoiding soil sealing by concrete or asphalt civil society allows soil biodiversity to breathe and be alive. Governments should invest in gathering better knowledge about the status of soil biodiversity and functions, including by region and land cover type. Everyone can provide opportunities to support soil biodiversity around you by enhancing insects and other organisms’ habitats and allowing biomass (branches and leaves) to rot naturally.

Examples of other nature-based solutions that can help people adapt to climate change impacts include community-led protection, restoration, and management of natural and seminatural ecosystems within river catchments or along coastlines to protect against flooding and erosion; sustainable management of working lands to sustain or enhance crop yields during unpredictable growing conditions; and creation of forests, parks, and wetlands within and around urban areas for cooling and to reduce flood risk and finally, peatland restoration can be a critically important response to the climate crisis.  

NbS are different from offsetting – it’s important to distinguish ‘offsets’ from any NbS definition. That’s because Nature-based Solutions reflect the multiple values of working with nature – protection, restoration and responsible management of our ecosystems. In this sense, biodiversity is key. NbS are about working with nature, by recognising its value and potential. To do this we have to work with local communities and indigenous groups, who have grounded and place-based knowledge of how best to thrive alongside nature. The global north has a lot to learn from communities at the frontline of climate change.  

roadmap to cop15

The road map to #cop15, the history of ecosystem-based approaches, and key events that have taken place over the past 2 decades. 

The term ‘Nature-based Solutions’ was first coined in 2008 by the World Bank and only in the last few years has it become a key part of global policy and business agendas involving net-zero plans. Nature-based solutions bring together blue/green solutions to recognise the multiple benefits nature can have for mitigation and adaptation. Importantly, NbS sit alongside broader ‘systems thinking’ ideas which invoke holistic and interconnected responses to the climate and ecological crises. – seaweed

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Throughout the rest of the course, we look at various responses to the climate crises. NbS offer one possible way forward. They are by no means perfect, and are complex and contested, but do offer an important step in tackling temperature rise whilst addressing the sustainable development goals. 

© Ben Murphy, University of Glasgow
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